3 Low-investment Product Customisation Options

Customisation and personalisation of products and services is one of the most important current trends in the consumer goods industry. To get started, consider these three low-investment customisation options.

Why Invest in Customisation?

According to a study of IFH Cologne and KPMG, 50% of consumers find personalised products more appealing than mass produced items. And 40% are even willing to pay more for customised products, while a third has already created an individual product. Especially younger consumers and consumers with a higher disposable income are interested in creating and buying individual items. And according to Deloitte, 50% are willing to accept a longer wait for their customised item.

Several studies show that consumers who buy customised items from a brand are more loyal, spend more time (in the brand’s brick & mortar or online store) and are more likely to come back. Many brands, however, still fear the associated investment in equipment, process adaptations, complexity, marketing cost and management attention needed to develop a customisation offer that adds true value for their consumers.

As a result, brands tend to wait and watch the big players invest in their customisation infrastructures. Like Nike, who bought Invertex Ltd., a company specialised in the mobile mass-customisation of footwear, or like Adidas, who invested in the speed of their factories in Ansbach and Atlanta.

But engaging consumers, making a brand more personal, more exciting and more relevant doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag. With modular design, design-your-own, and 3D printing, three low-investment options are available.

1. Modular Design Customisation

low investment costumisation

(Source: coach.com)

Select one or multiple elements of one of your most popular products and offer a selection of designs or colours to allow customisation of the base product. This might be:

  • the special design of a handbag strap that turns a mass product into a personal one (like Michael Kors),
  • selecting and adding decorative elements like patches, pins, prints, rivets or studs to a pre-fabricated item (like Coach, pictured above) or Converse’s pimp-your-chucks in their Broadway store in Manhattan),
  • or designing an entire product by selecting colours, material, trims, accessories, and additional design elements based on variations of each element (like Burberry with its made to order bags and coats, Anya Hindmarchs’ ‘build a bag’ configurator or ‘Silberwerk’ with its RingDing configurator, pictured below).

low investment customisation

(Source: Silberwerk.com)

Such modular design customisation is quite advanced in the handbags, jewellery and footwear business but, surprisingly, much less so in the apparel industry. Tommy Hilfiger offering customisation by changing prints, embroidery or patches on clothes at its Regent Street store is among the few early adopters.

The renaissance of statement sleeves could offer an easy way to implement low-investment customisation by offering various sleeve designs (shape, colour, material, patterns) to one base blouse or sweater. This would allow consumers to buy more than one set of sleeves to turn the item into a different look in a few simple steps. The sleeves could for example be interchangeable by the means of zippers, hooks and eyes, or ribbons. With each new product release, you could then invite consumers to check out the new sleeve designs or new base products.

Adding ribbons to customize the neckline of a sweater, offering differently coloured or shaped hoods and collars to a sweater or jacket, interchangeable buttons for blouses, shirts or jackets all allow consumers to create different looks that express their mood and taste without big investments for them or for the brand.

2. Design Your Own 

More and more brands use the creativity of their customers to enrich their product offerings. With their ‘Hogan by You’ initiative, for example, Hogan invited 500 customers to design their unique sneakers. Converse offers ‘Converse Blank Canvas’ workshop at their NY and Boston stores, where consumers can design and create their personal sneakers:

Cooperating with a specialised customisation business is another opportunity for brands who want to test low-investment customisation. New brands who offer design-your-own platforms are booming. Have a look at Mon Purse for bags, at Spreadshirts.com for individually designed T-Shirts, at Wovns for own fabric creations with no minimum yardage, and at Shoes of Prey for creating your very own pair of high heels, flats, sandals or sneakers.

low investment customisation

(Source: shoesofprey.com)

Spreadshirt is still one of the fastest growing companies in the fashion industry. The company generated a 32 million € revenue in 2012, skipped the 100 million € hurdle in 2017 and continues to grow.

A big chunk of this success is based on Spreadshirt’s design marketplace character. Anyonoe can become a Spreadshirt designer, uploading and selling their unique design to the wider Spreadshirt community. On average, ‘designers’ earn about 3.64 € per item sold. This generates a huge design selection with approximately 13.000 new designs uploaded each and every day. And Spreadshirt offers a ‘licensing’ section as well, allowing established brands to upload and sell their unique designs.

3D Printing for Truly Individual Designs

low investment customisation

3D-printed pendant by Desmond Chan (Source: i.materialise.com)

3D printing is another low-investment customisation technique. If the customisation you want to offer to your customers is beyond design templates and modular elements, 3D printing becomes the technology of choice.

It’s an easy and efficient way to materialise your customers’ individual designs. It can also help to design and create a small number of modular design elements to small-batch test in one store only or at an event before rolling it out.

3D printing technology is fast evolving with more and more materials used for 3D printers. From synthetics like Nylon or PET to sandstone, paper, wood, resin, ceramics, wax and metals, including precious metals like gold, silver, platinum –  the list is ever growing.

Although 3D printers have become more affordable, the technology may still involve a a prohibitive investment – especially at the start of your customisation journey, not knowing whether it will deliver the results you are looking for.

Fortunately, there is an evolving industry offering 3D printing services. There even is a 3D printing price comparison service for industrial grade 3D printing to help you select the most appropriate material and printing technique, to compare service providers and get a quote on the service you may need.

low investment customisation

(Source: all3dp.com)

Being successful on your way to customisation, rather than merely adding complexity and cost, requires a true understanding of what your customers will value. Gaining clarity on what will engage your consumers, make them visit your store or website more often and inspire them to buy more or at a higher price is crucial.

Some companies that have invested in customisation found their consumers less than enthusiastic about the options. That does not necessarily mean the products or services were not valued; often brands are simply not consistent enough in embedding their customisation approach into their marketing and communication strategies.

Instead, learn from successful customisation platforms that allow customers to share their creations with friends over social media. Shoes of Prey, for example, links Instagram posts of individually designed shoes on its website, thus allowing consumers to buy the same or begin a new customisation process. 

low investment customisation

(Source: shoesofprey.com)

Celebrate customised creations with the most likes by awarding attractive prizes or even consider allowing financial benefits by sharing part of the margin when consumers select a design uploaded by another consumer.

To avoid wasting money on your path to customisation, start out with one of these low-investment customisation options. This will help you better understand your customers’ needs and desires and finetune your offering accordingly. Once you have found YOUR way to customisation, higher investments in equipment, people, processes and management attention will be much more likely to pay off for you.


About the Author:

Heike Blank has worked for big organisations such as VF Europe and s.Oliver but also for niche brands such as Ecko Unltd. and Zoo York in top executive positions. Her extensive experience with opening and managing own retail, partner stores, concessions and shop-in-shops in 23 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia make her an expert in expansion. Get in touch with her via e-mail and read more from her here.

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